Court calls India govt vaccine policy ‘arbitrary and irrational’


The Indian government’s Covid-19 vaccination policy was on Wednesday dubbed “arbitrary and irrational” by the country’s Supreme Court, Indian legal websites reported.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had rolled out Covid-19 vaccination for all above age 18 on April 1 this year in a move that has come in for criticism because India simply does not have so many vaccines.

The resultant rush has made getting vaccines in India a game of patience and privilege.

The same vaccine is also differently priced in the country, depending on the age of the recipient, which state, government hospital or private one, etc.

For example, Covishield, the AstraZeneca vaccine, is available for free at government hospitals, was available for Rs 250 for those above 45 years of age taking it at non-government facilities, and is now anywhere between Rs 900 and Rs 1200.

The policy of the Central Government for conducting free vaccination themselves for groups under the first 2 phases, and replacing it with paid vaccina vaccination by the State/UT Governments and private hospitals for the persons between 18-44 years is, prima facie, arbitrary and irrational,” the Indian legal website reported the Supreme Court bench as observing prima facie.

The court asked the government to furnish data on the percentage of population vaccinated so far with one or both doses both in rural and urban areas, along with documents reflecting its thinking in connection with the vaccination policy.

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat said: “UoI (Union of India) shall also ensure that copies of all the relevant documents and file notings reflecting its thinking and culminating in the vaccination policy are also annexed on the vaccination policy. Hence, we direct the UoI to file its affidavit within 2 weeks.”

It stressed on Centre bringing on record an outline for how and when it seeks to vaccinate the remaining population in Phases 1, 2 and 3.

The bench emphasized the data should include the percentage of rural population as well as the percentage of urban population vaccinated so far.

“The complete data on the Central Government’s purchase history of all the Covid-19 vaccines till date (Covaxin, Covishield and Sputnik V). The data should clarify: (a) the dates of all procurement orders placed by the Central Government for all 3 vaccines; (b) the quantity of vaccines ordered as on each date; and (c) the projected date of supply,” it said.

As the Centre, in its May 9 affidavit, had said that every state/UT government will provide vaccination free of cost to its population, the court noted: “It is important that individual state/UT governments confirm/deny this position before this court.

“Further, if they have decided to vaccinate their population for free, then, as a matter of principle, it is important that this policy is annexed to their affidavit, so that the population within their territories can be assured of their right to be vaccinated for free at a state vaccination centre.”

The top court directed each of the state/UT governments to also file an affidavit within two weeks, clarifying their position and put on record their individual policies.

The top court also asked the Centre to submit update on steps taken to ensure drug availability for mucormycosis.

The order was passed by India’s top court in the suo motu case initiated by it to deal with issues relating to Covid-19 management in the country. The next hearing is on June 30.

On May 31, the court had shot a volley of tough questions at the government in connection with its Covid vaccine policy, and flagged various flaws: shortage of vaccine doses, pricing issues, registration for vaccination, and lack of vaccine, especially for the rural areas in the country.